The OED defines jiggery-pokery as “deceitful or dishonest ‘manipulation’; hocus-pocus, humbug”. By OED, I mean the Oxford English Dictionary of course, the common referent of that abbreviation. The out of print pamphleteer Dobson, however, tried to foist upon the world another OED, the Omni-Encyclopaedia Dobsonia. We must be careful, when ploughing through the works of the pamphleteer, not to mistake one OED for the other. If we look up “jiggery-pokery” in Dobson’s own OED, we are told simply, “see pamphlet”. In fact, pretty much anything we look up in Dobson’s OED carries the same advice or instruction. It is difficult to see the point of this so-called reference work, which consumed many, many hours of the pamphleteer’s time. Even if we consider it as a sort of universal index to the contents of his pamphlets, it is by and large worthless, as he never deigns to inform us which particular pamphlet he is enjoining us to “see”.
In the case of jiggery-pokery, though, we are on firm ground. The pamphlet to which the OEDobsonia refers must be The History, Theory And Practice Of Jiggery-Pokery, From Ancient Times Up To Yesterday Morning, With Practical Tips And Cut Out ‘N’ Keep Cardboard Display Models For Your Mantelpiece (out of print). At barely a dozen pages, the pamphlet is distressingly brief, and nowhere does Dobson grant us a definition, so we are never entirely clear what he means, or understands, by the term “jiggery-pokery”. There is one lengthy paragraph which seeks to describe, in mind-numbing detail, a series of “manipulations”, “passing movements”, “flummeries and gesticulations” and “hoo-hah” which the pamphleteer watched being performed by a man he describes as “a shattered ship’s captain” on board a boat plying an unidentified sound on New Year’s Eve 1949. If we accept this to be a description of jiggery-pokery, we are none the wiser regarding its purpose, as Dobson does not bother to tell us. One suspects he had no idea what he was looking at.
The pamphlet’s title makes great claims, which only the most charitable reader could consider are met. History? Well, Dobson has a couple of sentences in which he makes glancing reference to “well-known instances of jiggery-pokery by Lars Porsena of Clusium and one-eyed Horatius Cocles” and to “that funny business involving a certain Frankish king”, but we are left scratching our heads wondering what on earth he is talking about. I just scratched my head, incidentally, and a beetle fell out of my bouffant. Time to wash my hair with a proprietary shampoo! Wait there.
I have returned, cleaned and preened and ready to proceed. Where were we? Ah yes. If the “history” element of the pamphlet’s title is scarcely justifiable, what about “theory”? On page five, Dobson announces, with quiet menace, “The time has come to consider jiggery-pokery in the abstract”. This is menacing because anybody who has even a passing acquaintance with the pamphleteer’s work knows that when he embarks upon passages of “abstraction” the best thing to do is to bash one’s head repeatedly against a surface of adamantine hardness until one loses consciousness. There was a time, when I was foolishly attempting to write a magazine article entitled “Abstract Dobson”, when I actually installed a rectangular panel of granite next to my writing desk, so I could do the bashing without having to get up from my chair. If you fear your cranium cannot withstand repeated bashing, it is important to find an alternative method of dealing with the all too potent horrors of Dobson in “abstract” mode. Some illegal pharmacists with pharmacies tucked away down sordid alleyways may be able to procure for you the kinds of powdered tranquilisers that can stun an entire herd of cattle, but ingesting them, even in a bergamot-scented tisane, has its own risks. Some more experienced Dobsonists have tried the trick of simply flipping past the awful pages and resuming their reading when the pamphleteer gets some sense back in his head. Do what you have to do.
For now, all I will say about Dobson’s “Theory of Jiggery-Pokery” is… glubb… glubb…glubb-glubb. Some of you will recognise that as the telephone call made by a terrifying semi-aquatic creature in The Thing On The Doorstep by H P Lovecraft. Warning enough, I think.
And so we come to “Practice”, which I suppose Dobson addresses in that interminable paragraph about the shattered ship’s captain, but as we have seen, whether what he witnessed was jiggery-pokery, or some kind of maritime ballet, is by no means clear. Over the years I have watched various crew members of ships, from Rear Admirals to barnacle scrapers, perform all sorts of baffling physical manoeuvres, and not once have I thought any of it fitted the definition of jiggery-pokery, except on one occasion when I was aboard a very sinister ship which sailed into a clammy mist, in which all sorts of ugly shenanigans took place until, at the last, I was marooned, with several other paying passengers, upon a remote atoll, populated only by squelchy creeping things, and bereft of paper and pencils and writing desks and panels of adamantine hardness. Luckily, the one, brine-soaked, Dobson pamphlet I managed to salvage from the ship was written in his more familiar majestic sweeping paragraphs, with nary a pippet of “abstraction” within it. Its title, by the way, was Popular Games And Pastimes Suitable For Those Marooned On Remote Atolls Pending Rescue By A Ship Of Fools (out of print).
Returning to the pamphlet under discussion, my copy of The History, Theory And Practice Of Jiggery-Pokery, From Ancient Times Up To Yesterday Morning, With Practical Tips And Cut Out ‘N’ Keep Cardboard Display Models For Your Mantelpiece contains neither practical tips nor cut out ‘n’ keep cardboard display models for my mantelpiece, not that I have a mantelpiece in my chalet, for architectural reasons. I suspect Dobson appended these items to his title to woo a wider readership, attracting the kinds of people who like practical tips and the construction of cardboard display models. I once cut out, from a Kellogg’s cornflakes carton, ‘n’ constructed ‘n’ kept, a cardboard display model of the head, just the head, of Henry VIII. But that was long ago, when I was young and tiny, and almost as long ago it was lost. Both are lost, the time of my youth and the cardboard head, lost too, one suspects, the wits of Dobson when he sat down to write his jiggery-pokery pamphlet. Perhaps that was his own kind of jiggery-pokery, as a pamphleteer, to convince us he was a sensible man writing sensible prose, when more often than not he was a nincompoop.